The consolations of God - Eighth in a series
Continuing from the previous blog post, according to the Westminster Confession (WC), accepted by many denominations as a guide to Scripture, the holy catholic (universal) church is INVISIBLE. It consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. (WC 25-1) Unbelievers are not in that number, even though you may see them and sit with them in church every Sunday.
The WC then points out that the VISIBLE church is also universal, that is, not confined to one nation, but is made of all throughout the world who profess the true religion, together with their children.
Furthermore, to the VISIBLE church Christ has given the ministry, oracles (the Bible), and the ordinances of God for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, and does by his presence and Spirit assure their effectiveness. (WC 25-3) We must believe that Jesus Christ is with us in the churches, even though many have become "so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan" (WC 25-5). It is comforting and an article of FAITH that "there shall always be a church on earth to worship God according to his will." (See the 25th chapter of the WC for the scripture references for these teachings.)
The WC states that the catholic or universal church is "the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation." This statement would provide a start for a lively discussion among many today!
Now, about the COMMUNION OF SAINTS: to Roman Catholics, this refers to all those in the church, alive, in purgatory or in heaven. It includes the intercession of saints and the practice of praying for the dead. For the Lutherans, it means "union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith." (Wikipedia)
For protestants generally, the communion of saints is defined in the WC’s chapter 26-1:
All saints that are united to Jesus Christ their head by his Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory. And being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces; and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.
The Scripture references are: I John 1:3; Eph. 3:16-19; John 1:16; Eph. 2:5-6; Phil. 3:10; Rom. 6:5-6; II Tim. 2:12; Eph. 4:15-16; I Cor. 12:7; I Cor. 3:21-23; Col. 2:19; I Thess. 5:11, 14; Rom. 1:11-12, 14; I John 3:16-18; Gal. 6:10.
The word "communion" or koinōnia (Gr) means: fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse, intimacy, the share which one has in anything.
Calvin and other church fathers wrote about the need for believers to mutually strengthen themselves in the fear of God and by sharing among themselves the benefits given to each by God. These concepts are hard to understand for unbelievers.
There is a participation in Christ that is expressed in communing with fellow Christians. It is an intimacy of relation that is tended by someone unseen, whose example we are careful to model as we commune. We feel His presence in one another and we are consoled.
We will take up this blog series again in the New Year, DV — Deo Volente, God Willing.